Compassion has a role in a company’s culture

What is it that creates company culture and why does this matter so much, asks Jim Duffy. Picture: contributed.
What is it that creates company culture and why does this matter so much, asks Jim Duffy. Picture: contributed.
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There are just some companies that I would really not want to work for. And, of course, some that I would find really appealing. Whether it’s the people that run and lead the company or how it portrays itself, there is something important that communicates a company’s values, ethics and culture.

But what is it that creates company ­culture and why does this matter so much? Let’s consider a very profitable ­company suffering from image problems.

Ryanair has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons again – the first being an incident on one of its ­aircraft bound for London from Barcelona where an elderly male passenger racially abused a black female passenger. The ­video, which was filmed by another traveller, has been viewed tens of thousands of times on social media. As an aside, it is disgusting to watch. But, the question that is being asked on all the radio and TV talk shows is why did Ryanair staff not intervene and throw the culprit off the aircraft? Fellow passengers intervened and then Ryanair, who made sure the plane got off in time, ­reported the incident to Essex Police.

Herein lies the first problem for Ryanair and my perception of the culture there. In my opinion, a human being was being ­verbally assaulted and needed staff to ­prevent it continuing, protect her and stop it. It seems there were other “priorities”. So, for me the culture at Ryanair seems to be more about efficiency and profit before doing the right thing.

Next up for the same airline is the profit dip, due in part to strikes by pilots and ­cabin crew. Yes, the company made a healthy €1.3 billion (£1.1bn) in the six months to the end of September. But this was down 9 per cent year on year. Investors are not too worried, it appears, but crews decided to strike. Again, this sends out a signal to me that there is something wrong with the culture at Ryanair.

That said, I have no problems flying with them as they have always performed well any time I have travelled with them. Perhaps efficiency and profit are the two words that summarise Ryanair – and to hell with negative press? But if it does not try to improve its company culture, then it runs the risk of being demonised by the media in the long term, which in turn will affect staff morale.

But how is good company culture ­created and maintained? Ryanair is not a lost cause and nor should we give up on it. It is a success story led by an entrepreneurial leader – Michael O’Leary.

I recall ten years ago wondering what the Ryanair strategy was and how it would become as big and profitable as International Airlines Group. But under his leadership, Ryanair has done exactly that. That is why investors are happy. O’Leary is a rich man. He is straight-talking and plainly is more than ­happy to tell it how it is, only this week stating that the winter will be grim for the airline and that he is willing to stay on as CEO for another two to three years. In short, to see it through. But does O’Leary’s go-getter, money-making personality cloud the Ryanair culture and darken what it could be?

My perception is that, more broadly, for all founder-run enterprises, Facebook included, the control and personality of this individual sets the tone for how others act and behave. Good luck Sir Nick Clegg with Mr Zuckerberg.

Company culture is that something that cannot be improved simply by hitting a button in the board room. It takes time, effort and vision. But, for the likes of Ryanair, who appear to be suffering from bad press and ­perceived poor culture, it may take a re-engineering of mindset from those at the top. Would it not be great to be a thoroughly efficient, safe and hugely profitable airline, while being a caring organisation that does the right thing as much as it can?

This can be achieved by all at Ryanair. Then it would be a total and complete success story for me and many like me – and not just a profit-making entity.

- Jim Duffy, MBE, Create Special